'Fearless' children inspired Streep to try action role

September 30, 1994|By Rick Holter | Rick Holter,Dallas Morning News

The shimmering of Montana's glacier-fed Whitefish Lake is no match for the light glinting off Meryl Streep's ice-blue eyes. This is not the kind of place that makes you think of death. But that's what's on the actress' mind.

"I felt the possibility all the time -- more and more as we went on," she says, describing the ordeal of filming her new whitewater suspense movie, "The River Wild." "Because you feel like: 'God, I was safe for a month. Will I be safe for another month?' Like the cat of nine lives -- 'Did I use up my eight already? Is this gonna be the day I buy it?' "

Meet Meryl Streep, class action hero. The star who made her name in such prestige projects as "The French Lieutenant's Woman" and "Sophie's Choice" has, after a less-than-spectacular comedic detour, packed her pair of Oscars and nine nominations into a rucksack and set off on a new adventure.

"I've hit a point in my life where I have four children, and I'm always saying to them, 'Be careful!' 'Don't do that!' 'Get down from that, you're gonna kill yourself,' " she says. "I see them, I'm inspired by them. They're reckless, and they're fearless, and they just go out and careen through the day. I thought, 'Maybe I'm missing something, 'cause they're having more fun.' "

So she signed on for "The River Wild," an all-out dive into Hollywood's mainstream.

Like no other movie since "Deliverance" (1972), most of "The River Wild's" filming was done on the rapids. The principals describe the shoot last summer and fall as a soaking barrage of 14-hour days and six-day weeks. Nearly everyone involved got thrown from a raft at one time or another, and war stories of near-death experiences are traded like baseball cards.

So does this all mean that the most-honored actress of her generation is trying to resuscitate a recently flagging career with a jolt of Van Damme-esque action? Those eyes, so dreamy when she talks about her kids (Henry, Mamie, Grace and Louisa, ages 3 to 14), turn steely.

"How can you look at my career and the choices I've made and think that?" she asks. "I'm always intrigued that it makes sense to people -- 'Yes, that is what she's doing. She really wants that piece of the action pie.' . . . I can't even understand where it came from. . . .

"I've never been interested in that criticism, 'Well, why didn't she stay in her niche?' Well, you go stay there! I don't want to."

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